Following a four day shutdown of hundreds of factories by strikes and a series of violent confrontations involving tens of thousands of people, Bangladeshi garment workers have forced the bosses into a 77% rise to the minimum wage, although it is still the lowest minimum wage in the world. This victory will hopefully be a catalyst to other garment workers in India, China, Cambodia, and Laos, who are being held back from confrontation by the boss’s threats of relocation and dismissals. Millions of workers are employed across the region in the garment industry accounting for over 75% of several countries’ GDP, so the bosses cannot stand a shutdown of longer than a few days.
The garment industry has come under the international spotlight over the last year. The huge factory blaze in April that resulted in the deaths of 1,100 people highlighted the disgusting wages, conditions, and non-existent health and safety that run through the garment trade.
Despite huge multinational brands claiming they would pressure the Bangladeshi government into driving up standards, little had changed. The rise in the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $68 has been won by workers taking matters into their own hands. Although still ‘poverty pay’ by international standards, it will hopefully improve the lives of the four million Bangladeshi’s who work in the sector.
The pay rise has still to be officially rubber stamped by the government (expected later this week) but the factory bosses do not want to give any increase in pay claiming that:
“The proposed wage for an unskilled newcomer would increase their production cost significantly and destroy the industry in a fiercely competitive global market.”
I understand their concerns – an increase in the production cost of a t-shirt from $1 to $2 which is then sold wholesale to Gap for $10, who the sell it for $50, is going to make a catastrophic dent in their profit margins. Unfortunately for the bosses a 20% drop in national production during the dispute has hit their margins harder than a pay rise would, and have subsequently withdrawn their opposition to the 77% rise.
Large numbers of people continue to demand a much bigger pay raise, and are still refusing to go back to work. Solidarity!
A version of this piece was original posted at libcom.org.
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